Ireland U20 prospect Loughman eager to deliver ball to talented backline

JEREMY LOUGHMAN, IRELAND U20 prop and graduate of Blackrock College.

The archetypical route into the game, right? Not so.

Loughman has started all three of Ireland’s games so far in the U20 Six Nations. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 19-year-old is actually a product of Athy RFC and Árdscoil na Tríonóide, where he spent most of his formative years before switching to Blackrock in fifth year with the aim of speeding his progress even further.

The change of schools also meant Loughman transferred from the Leinster Youths set-up into the Schools side, Loughman saying now that “it was a good move looking back.”

Indeed, the prop won a Leinster Schools Senior Cup title with Blackrock at his first attempt in 2013 playing at loosehead, before being equally as effective on the tighthead side during the Dublin school’s 2014 success.

He picked up international honours at U19 level too, and is now the starting loosehead for Nigel Carolan’s U20s, who face Wales on Friday night as they bid to get their Six Nations campaign back on track after defeat at home to England two weekends ago.

School days behind him, Loughman is now part of UCD RFC, home to so many of this Ireland U20s crop. This week, the prop’s only focus in on international issues, hoping as he is to help Ireland back to winning ways.

“It’s been tough, but it’s been very enjoyable,” says Loughman of his championship so far, Ireland having beaten Italy and France before losing to England.

“This is the highest level of international rugby I’ve played so far and they’ve been tough games, so I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s really challenged me as a player.”

Loughman is enjoying being back on the loosehead side. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Loughman has impressed under Carolan’s tutelage, delivering set-piece solidity and adding some nice touches in open play, particularly last time out against the English.

That handling ability and ball-carrying power was, in part, developed during Loughman’s former days as a centre. He played in the midfield at home in Athy right up to U15 level, something that’s evident in the prop’s play even now.

“Having been a centre back in the day, I do enjoy carrying the ball in the loose,” says Loughman. “But [mainly], I think it’s been important setting that platform for the backs.”

That statement is a repeated feature of the chat with Loughman, the underlining of his awareness that the Ireland U20s pack needs to continue to provide clean possession for the impressive backline led by the likes of Ross Byrne and Garry Ringrose.

“We’ve identified that we have an extremely good backline this year, so I think as forwards it’s very important to really set them a good platform,” says Loughman.

“The better a platform we give them, the easier they make it on us because they’ve showed already they can run them in from anywhere. I think it’s good for us to push ourselves to give them a good platform.”

So far, so good. Giving the backs clean possession wasn’t the problem against England, rather the fact that chances went untaken on a number of occasions in the first half of a 19-14 defeat.

The 19-year-old developed with Athy RFC before moving to Blackrock. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Up against a lauded English tight five unit, Loughman and his teammates coped comfortably.

“I thought it was an equal battle, it was tough up front,” says Loughman. “They’re obviously very big lads and like Wales they have a lot of first-team experience with their clubs.

“That older experience, especially in the front row, really pays off. It was tough but I thought we handled it well and hopefully we can build from England and put in a good set-piece performance against Wales”

Loughman praises the influence of scrum coach John Fogarty on the Ireland U20s effort thus far, as well as highlighting the work of Colin McEntee on the team’s lineout. The prop had worked with both coaches before this year, as well as with head coach Carolan at U19 level.

“I enjoy the way he lets us play and coaches us. He really gives it over to the players to lead it,” says Loughman of Carolan’s philosophy.

The Ireland U20 coaching staff will be hoping their ongoing mission of handing responsibility to the young men on the pitch pays dividends in Parc Eirias on Friday night.

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